professornana (professornana) wrote,

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I was watching a documentary on Sondheim recently. In addition to being absolutely bowled over by his music, I was struck by one thing he said when asked about why he works so much with young people. In part, he is paying back, of course. When he was a teen, Oscar Hammerstein spent time with Sondheim teaching him what a play, a song should do. But it was during this answer that Sondheim talked about how he would have loved to have had a child, someone to teach. By teaching he meant, he explained, opening the child's mind to new ideas and experiences.

And that, dear reader, is part of the discomfit I feel when I read about the current spate of disinvitations, gatekeeping, and challenges. For it is censorship that robs us as readers from those experiences and ideas. I read books about happy families because mine was not-so-happy. I loved some books because the main character was ever so much more determined and independent and brave than I was. I searched for books about characters facing challenges that were part of my life. Finding none (Peck and Hinton and Kerr and Zindel,and Cormier and Crutcher were not yet penning the books that would speak to me), I found books about other challenges and consumer=d them hoping I could learn something about myself and my life.

Later, I read books that challenged my childhood concepts of love and justice and faith and friendship and family. I found books that helped me understand who I was, why I was, where I was in the grand scheme of things. Even now, in my dotage, I find books that let me know I am not alone, that help me, as Kafka observed, are an axe for the frozen sea within me. I believe books must "wound and stab us." They need to confront us, challenge us, make us challenge ourselves. Yes, books can provide comfort and assurance. But never reading a book outside of our comfort zone, outside of our experiences, outside of our ideas? How are we to grow and change and move forward? As Phil Bildner observes, "When a school librarian won't place a book on a shelf -- a book that will save lives -- because he/she fears the community backlash, that is censorship."

And this is why censorship is more than puzzling or irritating or aggravating: it is downright dangerous. Kate Messner's moving blog post about her disinvitation observes:

"When we choose books for school and classroom libraries, we need to remember who we serve. We serve the kids. All of them. Even the kids whose lives are not what we might want childhood to look like. Especially those kids.

When we quietly censor books that deal with tough issues like heroin addiction or books like Alex Gino’s GEORGE, which is a wonderful story about a transgender fourth grader, we are hurting kids. Because no matter where we teach, we have students who are living these stories. When we say, “This book is inappropriate,” we’re telling those children, “Your situation…your family…your life is inappropriate.” This is harmful. It directly hurts children. And that’s not what we do."

We also prevent kids from reading about horrific circumstances and doing so safely from the confines of a book. We tech kids that some ideas, some experiences, some things are just wrong. We take away chances for readers to connect with someone else in a book. We reduce empathetic experiences that might stand readers in good stead in real life. In sort, we shortchange kids. As educators (teachers and librarians) we hold tremendous power. We can be courageous and share all manner of books with kids. Or we can seek only "safe" books. A word of wring, though--books we deem safe might just be those someone else finds dangerous. If you doubt me, visit This site, Parents Against Bad Books In Schools, and others that seek to censor and even encourage censorship, is frightening to me. So are sites such as Safe Libraries (and now I will be trolled by the owner of this site for several weeks). Read some of the reasons why books are challenged at the ALA OIF site on banned books which include information on why books are challenged:

Be informed. Be brave. Be the educator that opens doors instead of closing minds.
Tags: censorship, idiocy
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